Thaw a Frozen Heart: Beauty, Love, & Upended Expectations in “Frozen”

In honor of Valentine’s Day, the February installment of my Feminists’ Guide to Disney is all about

LOVE

But not romantic love. Because isn’t there already enough focus on that in Disney Princess movies?

Today we’re going to look at the love between Princess Anna and Queen Elsa.

One reason why Frozen is amazing – not only for opening up a conversation about feminism with your kids, but also just in general – is the way it turns our expectations on their heads. (This has been a common theme for Disney Princess movies ever since Enchanted. Keep checking in, and maybe I’ll post about Giselle.) There are three specific princess tropes we have come to expect from Disney that are tossed to the side in Frozen. The first is that a princess is always beautiful, and the second and third are different aspects of the importance of romantic love.

 

1)Fairest of Them All

Beauty was one of the only characteristics of early Disney Princesses. Somehow it is always something that side characters bring up when they’re meeting the princess for the first time.

appearance vs accomplishments

image courtesy of Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer, via the Washington Post

In fact, when linguists Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer studied the complements that characters give Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, they found that 55% of those complements were based on the princesses’ appearance, while only 11% were based on “skills or accomplishments.”

 

During the Disney Renaissance, characters complemented princesses on their appearance about 38% of the time, and on their abilities or actions about 23% of the time.

In the New Age of Disney films, finally, princesses receive only 22% of their complements on their appearance, and 40% on their skills.

 

But the moment in Frozen when the trope is truly turned upside down is when guests are making their way to the newly opened gates for Elsa’s coronation. One of the men walking in states how excited he is to see the princesses, because they must be lovely.

And his companion says, “I’ll bet they are beautiful!”

Cut to:

bed head Anna

This is a fleeting moment, which at first glance seems to be purely for humor’s sake. But it is so much more. To a little girl watching the movie, a little girl who longs to be a princess with perfect clothes and perfect hair and a perfect body, this moment is a small victory. To that little girl, this moment says, “Princesses are not always beautiful.”

When it comes to portraying the wide range of beauty present in humanity, Disney has a long way to go. But this moment is a small step in the right direction.

 

2) So This is Love

Ugh, love at first sight.

I’ve always hated the notion of love at first sight. Even as an idealistic little girl. Even as a boy-crazy teen. I always thought the very idea of love at first sight was an insult to what love truly is. Because true love is about so much more than what you can see in one instant. True love comes from learning who a person is. And people are complicated. Learning who someone is takes time.

So imagine my delight when I first watched Frozen in theaters and saw what Disney had done with the old “Hey, I just met you – and this is crazy – but I love you so let’s get married and also subject an entire kingdom to the consequences of our impulsive whims, why not?”

Anna and Hans meet one afternoon, sing a duet about finding their other half in each other that same evening, and are engaged to be married before the night is over.

Hans & Anna.jpg

But Elsa, apparently unaware that she’s in a Disney movie, will not give her blessing for their union because they’ve known each other less than a day and Elsa is a sane human being. Later, we find out that Hans was playing Anna for a sap the whole time, and goes so far as to call her “desperate.”

I was briefly worried the movie would still have a let’s-rush-into-love couple, when Anna and Kristoff (whom she’s also known for about a day) start to run to each other for true love’s kiss. Fortunately, even that trope kicked the bucket in this movie…

3) True Love Conquers All

True love’s kiss has been a staple of fairy tales since they were nothing more than oral traditions. So naturally, when the characters discover that only an act of true love will thaw a frozen heart, they immediately jump to the conclusion that the only solution is true love’s kiss.

Anna’s heart has been frozen, and the rest of her is rapidly turning to ice. Kristoff rushes her to the castle so she can kiss Hans. And when that turns out to be a bust, Anna rushes out of the castle so she can kiss Kristoff.

But it’s not Anna’s love for a man that saves her. It’s her love for Elsa. By sacrificing herself, Anna not only saves her sister, but she also saves herself.

So true love does conquer all. It’s just not the same kind of love you were expecting.

Anna & Elsa

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Not a Prize to be Won: A Woman’s Agency in Agrabah

As the first month of this new year draws to a close, I begin my Disney blog series with its first installment: a feminist exploration of Princess Jasmine.

 

Aladdin was the first Disney movie to feature a non-Caucasian princess. Finally, little girls with darker skin and hair could see themselves in a Disney Princess.

But how well did Aladdin portray Jasmine’s nationality and culture?

The movie takes place in the fictional Middle Eastern kingdom of Agrabah. The narrator is our first impression of this land, and one of the first lines in his opening song is: “It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.” This sense of barbarity continues later on in the movie when a marketplace vendor nearly chops off Jasmine’s hand for stealing an apple. Not exactly painting a positive cultural image.

Although they are Middle Eastern characters, both Aladdin and Jasmine have typically Caucasian features, other than their hair and skin color. Which characters do have the stereotypical Middle Eastern features? Jafar, Gazeem (the “humble thief” who gets eaten by the Cave of Wonders in the beginning of the movie), the palace guards, the narrator, & various background characters. In other words: villains and side characters.

Also be aware that almost every name is mispronounced. I grew up pronouncing Allah incorrectly, which in certain company can be upsetting and offensive. I didn’t even know that Aladdin and Jasmine had their name pronunciations butchered until I watched the movie with a friend of mine who speaks Hindi as her first language.

In short, if someone tells you Disney doesn’t whitewash, because they didn’t make Jasmine into Jessica, you can show them the realistic depictions of the princess whose name should be pronounced “Jaz-meen.”

historically accurate Jasmine - model
image courtesy of bustle.com
historically accurate Jasmine - drawing
historically accurate Jasmine courtesy of deviantart user Wickfield

Of course, Jasmine’s role in the movie is what you’ll want to focus on when discussing Aladdin with your kids. And Jasmine’s role and experiences would have been very different had the creators chosen to follow realistic cultural values. We’ll assume the movie takes place around the beginning of Islam because they reference Allah, and Jasmine is allowed a say in who she marries – just a bit later in history her consent would not have been required for her marriage. Suitors come to her, and she has the power to tell her father that she will not marry them. When Jafar suggests to the Sultan that he should choose for his daughter, the Sultan argues that she didn’t like any of those suitors and he can’t pick someone she doesn’t like.

But this time period also means that Jasmine would most likely be one of four wives. Depending on her husband’s opinion of her, she might still be considered a “queen,” but probably not one with much power.

Instead, Jasmine is the heir to the throne in her own right. Her husband will become Sultan through her. She is the one with the power.

Jasmine is well aware of this power she has. We see this when she tells Jafar that the one good thing that will come of her being forced to marry is that “when [she] is queen, [she] will have the power to get rid of” him.

Yet when Jasmine overhears her father, Jafar, and Aladdin talking behind her back about who she will marry, she tells them off. She is indignant, and she is not afraid to let them know it. And rather than berating her for speaking in their presence, the men are actually ashamed of their behavior when she calls them on it. (Well, not Jafar, but he’s the bad guy! I mean, Jafar also says that being speechless is “a fine quality in a wife.” Make sure to point out to your kids that there’s a reason it’s the bad guy saying that!)

Jasmine’s reaction in this scene is what to emphasize with your children when you watch Aladdin together – not just your daughters either. Jasmine’s expectation of how she deserves to be treated is how all children should learn to treat people. And the crazy thing is, the words Jasmine uses directly contradict what a realistic society of the time would not question: “I am not a prize to be won.”

Back on Track, Again

Today I realized that I have not blogged since NaNoWriMo ended. Not surprising, as I’ve hardly written since then either. NaNoWriMo burnt me out.

But now I’m back, and determined to stick with it this time! (I know, you’ve heard that before. But this time I mean it.) I’ve wanted to get back to the novel I started in November, but the task has been daunting. Until yesterday, when I happened upon this quote:

first draftI’ve thought about first drafts in similar ways, but this metaphor puts the whole concept of the first draft into the perfect context. There’s no pressure if you’re thinking of it as the raw materials you will eventually use to create your masterpiece.

Now I just have to find the time to continue shoveling sand into a box…

Happy Father’s Day!

This past week I’ve been pretty busy, getting ready for Father’s Day. So my post today is just going to be a quickie – a short excerpt from Finding ‘Ohana inspired by my own memories of my dad:

 

When I first landed on O’ahu, I missed Dad. I never told him. Lucas and I had chosen to come to Hawai’i for college because it was the furthest we could get from our hometown without fleeing the country. (Lucas missed his parents, but saw the trip as a rite of passage. I, on the other hand, wanted to get away from the church and those in it as much as I wanted to get out of that town.) The added bonus was the paradise aspect of the island. When we got off the plane, our first stop was the beach. As soon as our feet touched sand, we dropped our enormous suitcases that would get us through the semester, and ran for the waves. We had worn our swimsuits under our clothing for hours and hours, just for that moment.

I was surprised by how warm the water was. Of course I knew the air was warm in Hawai’i, but I thought all bodies of water were inherently cold, no matter what part of the world they were in. The next thing I knew, I was neck-deep in salt water. I floated with the waves, letting them wash away my exhaustion from the flight. One went higher than I expected, and I found myself sputtering the salt out of my mouth.

I was instantly brought back to our family trip to Florida. I could not have been more than eight years old. Billy was just a toddler, playing in the sand with Mom while Dad took me out past where I could touch the ocean floor. He held me above the waves, swinging me in and out of them as they swelled around us. I was scared to be where I could not reach, where I had no control, but I trusted my dad. He laughed at my joyful screams. It was one of my happiest memories of him, probably because I was still innocent – the part of me he could not accept had not emerged yet.

I had not had the taste of salt water in my mouth and nose since then. Not until I was in another ocean, thousands of miles away.